BY WINNIE McCROY | Chanting, “I am somebody, and I demand full equality,” and “Stop the bashing,” a group of about 75 LGBT protestors and their allies marched April 10 in a West Village route from Washington Square Park to the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street to draw attention to recent gay bashings, particularly an assault on 26-year-old Damian Furtch.
In the early morning hours of March 27, Furtch stopped at McDonald’s on West Fourth Street on the way home from his job at the Pink Tea Cup. Sensing some tension from men who mocked his hot-pink shoelaces and cap, he quickly left. Two men followed him, and, in a scene caught on surveillance video, punched him repeatedly in the head while screaming, “You fucking faggot.”
An anonymous tip led to the arrest of Anthony Bray, a homeless 21-year-old. The suspect admitted attacking Furtch, but said that it could not have been a hate crime, because he is also gay. Bray, whose criminal record includes arrests for drug possession, graffiti, and robbery, has been charged with misdemeanor assault. No hate crime charge has been filed against Bray.
A second suspect in the assault has not been charged.
“I can’t say that he’s lying or not lying at this point, but I think that any crime committed with violence stems from hate,” Furtch said of Bray. “Whether or not it was driven by homophobia is to be determined by the police, but for me it’s a hate crime, because I had no ill intentions toward the suspects at all.”
Although Bray contends that the attack was prompted by disrespect, Furtch said he did not expect the tension to escalate to violence.
“I feel that’s why I became the victim,” said Furtch, who stands more than six-feet tall and appears quite capable of taking care of himself. “I never really thought that they were really going to attack me or maybe I could have protected myself a little better. But I don’t ever like to think anything is going to turn into that. I don’t walk around thinking, ‘Hopefully no one’s going to hurt me today.’ I kind of look at everyone with a light-hearted feeling that they are a good person and give them equal opportunity.”
Furtch was able to flee his attackers and get to Roosevelt Hospital uptown, where his nose had to be broken and re-set, four stitches were required to close a gash above his eye, and he suffered two black eyes.
“I think they’re cowards,” he told the Daily News of his attackers.
Furtch posted photos of his injuries and ordeal on Facebook, and his candor around his attack led to widespread media interest in the incident. NY1 News, for example, broadcast footage of the attack captured by the surveillance camera.
Fya Hopelezz, who moved to New York from Amsterdam and is herself a former hate crime victim, said when she learned of Furtch’s story, she decided she had seen enough. Teaming up with drag queens, nightlife performers, and young men of color, Hopelezz and makeup artist Daniel Azraea Bracciale organized the April 10 march and rally.
“I was gay-bashed myself five years ago in Amsterdam, where there has been a real increase in gay violence,” said Hopelezz. “I came to New York because I thought it was a lot better here, but there has been a wave of gay bashing in New York City. The last three gay bashings happened in one month, so I thought, ‘That’s enough. Let’s do this protest here.’”
Hopelezz and Bracciale were joined in their organizing effort by David Martinez, a young gay man who said, “When Damian got beat, I broke down. We were so angry, we thought we had to do something. So I met with Fya to organize this march.”
Martinez was joined at the march by his cousin and his mother, Evelyn Martinez, who said that no matter who you are, you have the right to walk the streets safely.
Both Martinez and Hopelezz cried foul when asked about Bray’s assertion that the beating couldn’t be a gay bashing if it came from another gay.
“No matter if he’s gay or straight it doesn’t matter because the fact is he was yelling anti-gay slurs, and if you are gay, that’s appalling, because you’re putting down your own people,” said Martinez.
“I think it’s a form of self-hate,” Hopelezz interjected.
In October 2007, Anthony Fortunato was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in the 2006 Brooklyn killing of Michael Sandy, a gay man. The prosecution argued for the hate crime conviction based on the fact the victim was targeted because of his sexual orientation.
“You know, it’s not just Damian,” Hopelezz continued. “We have had three gay bashings in the last month, and one guy died. They beat him while yelling, ‘You dirty faggot.’ They beat him to death. This has to stop now.”
Hopelezz was referring to 18-year-old Queens victim Anthony Collao, a straight teen beaten to death with an iron pipe last month by homophobes who thought he was gay. The alleged bashers arrested in the case included four 17-year olds, Nolis Ogando, Luis Tabales, Calvin Pietri, and Christopher Lozada, and 16-year-old Alex Velez. All five were indicted on charges of first-degree gang assault, first-degree manslaughter, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon in Collao’s killing.
“There are people who are victimized that are afraid to come out, but they need to come out publicly and put it out there for people to hear their story,” Martinez said. “We’re going to represent all of those people and make sure that this does not happen to anyone again.”
The march moved west from Washington Square Park, turning north on Sixth Avenue to 14th Street, heading west to Hudson Street, and then turning south to Christopher Street. From there, participants traveled east back past Seventh Avenue South, where they converged on the historical Stonewall. Out of her customary drag she wears as a performer, Frostie Flakes led the marchers in chants.
Inside, organizers held a press conference, during which Furtch thanked attendees for marching on his behalf. He also urged gays to be more compassionate with one another, saying that if others see community members bashing and disrespecting each other, deterrents to others following suit are eroded.
“I think it’s a prime example for people to say, ‘Well, they’re fucking each other up, so they really don’t care that much,’” Furtch told the crowd.
“For AVP as an advocacy organization, it’s important to let people know about our services but also to participate in the work that happens at these events, which is the shift in the culture that creates this violence,” Joyce Li, an organizer at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said at the tavern.
Speakers at the Stonewall also included a representative from the grassroots direct action group Queer Rising, who said that LGBT inequality is based in the nation’s legal system. Hate crimes and discrimination would not end, the Queer Rising member said, until people reached out to elected officials and demanded that LGBT lives be legitimized through full civic equality, including the right to marry.
“I’m really excited to see all these people out here,” said Furtch. “Hopefully even with 50 people, we will still be able to make a statement that this kind of attack is not tolerated.”
Anyone who is the victim of a bias attack or with information about attacks on others can contact AVP’s 24-hour bilingual hotline at 212-714-1141. Information on attacks should also be conveyed to the Crime Stoppers hotline at 866-313-TIPS.